31/10/10 - 12pm
Let`s get the negative out of the way first; that was an appalling game of football between two teams who didn`t want to lose the game, as opposed to two teams that wanted to win it.
Unfortunately, getting the negatives out of the way so early doesn`t necessarily mean that there are many positives to talk about either, with the only three I can think of being that we didn`t lose, got a point and kept a clean sheet.
I can`t understand why we played in such a negative way. Why didn`t we play with two strikers at home from the start? Why was Ciaran Clark deployed in midfield when that is clearly not his best position when we had Ireland and Bannan on the bench?
The game was a fairly scrappy affair, which is understandable given the equal weight of apprehension and passion that is present in most derbies that are played in English football. Having said that, Villa had the first decent chance of the game, after Ashley Young pinged a low ball towards goal that only needed the slightest glance off Heskey`s boot to make the net bulge. As it happened, Heskey couldn`t make the required contact.
Ben Foster had an extremely lucky escape after his attempted clearance was ferociously charged down by our very own Nige, stand-in captain Reo-Coker.
Villa then could have stood accused of being jammy themselves, with the hyperactive Croyden-born midfielder committing what I think was hand-ball in the Blues penalty area. That was at least my initial reaction, and I was surprised that Blues weren`t given a penalty.
At the interval, the atmosphere was strangely subdued in B6, with most supporters recognising that they had just seen a load of absolute dross. Even my usual, ever-so-slightly superstitious half-time trip to the toilet to empty my bladder was strange, mostly because of the urine that covered the floor after a toilet had become blocked and had overflown. At least it gives me an excuse to chuck my trainers into the washing machine.
Blues sent on Cameron Jerome, possibly sensing that the Villa defence could be got at, and that proved to be the case as an again below-par Richard Dunne was easily ghosted past by the much maligned front-man, only for him to cross straight into Brad Friedel`s hands, showing exactly why he is ‘much-maligned`, even by Bluenoses themselves.
One interesting feature of the game was Craig Gardner`s battle with Reo-Coker, and after a bad challenge in the first half had seen a yellow card head Gardner`s way, as well as a few choice words by Reo-Coker himself, tempers again flared in the second half when another foul was committed on Nige by Gardner. This time though it was met by an even worse reaction which meant that Reo-Coker entered the referee`s book, which in turn probably played a big part in his later substitution. I must admit that I was both surprised and annoyed by Craig Gardner. I seem to remember him being a fairly good football player while he was at Villa, and it is a shame to see what the atmosphere at St. Andrews has turned him into – another member of the Blues midfield who would now be more suited to rugby.
Our little Scotsman Barry Bannan came on and did fairly well considering the circumstances, although Houllier`s failure to put Ireland onto the pitch completely baffled me. Houllier must know that in Premier League derbies one thing that is a massive help is the presence of midfielders who can battle, and win that battle too, but instead he just made our physical presence even more miniscule. However, the Frenchman`s change nearly paid off, with Bannan hitting a lovely strike that just looked like it was going to creep in, but Foster made a good save.
Big John came on for Nigel Reo-Coker in the dying embers of the game and he nodded on a ball which set-up a glorious chance for Ciaran Clark that he looked destined to score from, but he unfortunately sent his header wide whilst also managing to get a smack from Ben Foster in the process.
The game finished with Ashley Young attempting to jink past Liam Ridgewell to create some space for himself, which he then used to thunder a shot against what was almost the angle of bar and post.
I was really disappointed with our lack of attacking threat today. I`m not willing to criticise Houllier yet as he hasn`t had time to mould this team into his own, but I don`t believe that he`s going to help himself by putting square pegs into round holes. Clark did admirably in the circumstances considering his manager asked him to play a role that is completely unfamiliar to him, and when it was clear that we needed a more mobile presence to help Heskey up front his answer was to bring Carew on instead of Delfouneso, who, you guessed it, is the least mobile of the two.
Still, as I`ve been writing this report, I`ve managed to think of another positive. At least the two stoners I talked about in my Burnley report weren`t there today, so I knew that my head was going to be safe…
By – Big_Marlon
Brad Friedel 7
Luke Young 6
Richard Dunne 6
James Collins 7
Stephen Warnock 6
Ashley Young 7
Stewart Downing 7
Steve Sidwell 5
Ciaran Clark 8
Nigel Reo-Coker 6
Emile Heskey 7
Sub: Barry Bannan 6
Sub: John Carew 6